5 Things the Flames Need to Do in Order to Beat the Ducks

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The Flames are certainly the underdogs coming into Thursday night where they will play the Ducks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that doesn’t mean the Flames don’t have a chance at winning the series. If the Flames can do the following I believe they have a good chance at winning the series.

1: Play Physical

The Ducks are a very physical team, and the Flames need to match that. The guys to do that job will be mainly  Deryk Engelland, Sam Bennett, Michael Stone, Matthew Tkachuk and of course Michael Ferland. Quick thing on Michael Ferland: When the Flames went on the surprising and exciting 2015 playoff run it was largely on his back. He had 2 goals and 2 assists, 40 hits in 6 games vs the Canucks. He didn’t provide much scoring, but he got very under the skin of the Canucks, especially Kevin Bieksa, who he will play come Thursday. You can almost guarantee the Ducks will be coming after Ferland and also Mark Giordano because of his hit on Cam Fowler. Too often when there has been lots of fighting and rough stuff it throws the Flames off their game. In this series they can’t let that happen. The Flames need to play physical, but they cant let the rough stuff get out of hand. If you want to see the damage Michael Ferland can do in the playoffs, watch this:

2. Solid goaltending

Every cup team needs solid goaltending, but especially against the Ducks. Goals are hard to come by against the Ducks because of their defensive style of play, so Brian Elliott needs to play big. He can’t be allowing 3-4 goals because the offence may not be able to score that much. Besides that 8-3 beatdown by the Flames, in the other 4 games the Flames played against the Ducks they only scored 6 goals, losing by scores of 4-1, 3-1, 4-3, and 3-1.

If the Flames can’t score much against the Ducks Brian Elliott will be the biggest factor in this series. The difference between this years team and 2015’s team is mainly the goaltending. Despite the shaky start for the goalies in Calgary the goaltending has vastly improved. In the 2015 playoff run, there would be some good games for Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller, but it was ridiculously inconsistent. Since the all-star break this year it has been very consistent, and Elliott shows no signs of slowing down his spectacular play as of late.

3. Production from the Back End

The Flames were 4th in the league in terms of defensive point production with 176 points. Their point leaders from the point were Dougie Hamilton with 50 (career high) Mark Giordano with 39, and TJ Brodie with 36 points. The Ducks top 3 defenseman scorers are Cam Fowler (who will not play) with 39 points, Sami Vatanen with 24 points, and Hampus Lindholm with 20 points. So the Flames own the edge in defensive scoring by a wide margin, which will be effective. When you have blueliners like Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, TJ Brodie and Michael Stone, they turn almost every line into a threat to score. Their defense is a big reason why the Flames are one of the most balanced-scoring-teams  in the NHL, and the team will need them to be big.

4. Play a fast game

Well that’s what can happen if the Flames use their speed against the Ducks. This goal happened in the 2015 playoffs when Johnny Gaudreau just went right through the ducks team to set up Sean Monahan. To be clear, I’m not saying every rush up the ice has to be embarrassing the entire Ducks team and scoring a goal, but they need to use the speed they have in their lineup to get good breakouts and a clean zone entry because if the Flames don’t use that speed, zone entry will be very difficult because of the way the Ducks play. The players that will be a big factor in playing fast are of course Johnny Gaudreau, also Sam Bennett, Michael Ferland, Michael Frolik, Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk.

5. Winning faceoffs

The importance of winning faceoffs in this series is huge. The Ducks are one of the better faceoff teams in the league, operating at a faceoff win % of 54.69. The Flames faceoff win % is 48.93. Mikael Backlund will likely be facing Ryan Getzlaf in the faceoff circle which will not be easy, also Ryan Kesler and Antoine Vermette have done well in the faceoff circle this year. Defensive zone faceoffs will be one of the bigger parts of the game, the usual player to take the draws is Mikael Backlund, who so far has done very well . They will need him to come up big in the circle as well as Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett and Matt Stajan.

Let me know what you think in the comments or on twitter @JMannFlames

 

 

 

 

 

Flames draw Ducks in First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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With the Ducks defeating the Kings in overtime, they finish 1st in the division, which means they will play the Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs.

It was just 2 years ago that the Flames played the Ducks in a playoff series. It was quite an exciting series, but the Flames lost it in 5 games. Of course its hard not to talk about the Flames’ failure to get wins in Anaheim, but their last win in Anaheim came in a playoff series in 2006 that they won 5-2. But that is not the biggest story of this series right now.

The last time the Flames played the Ducks was April 4. We all know how that turned out: The Flames went up 1-0 after playing a very strong first period. Then the Ducks scored 2 straight to lead 2-1 going into the 3rd, when things got out of hand. In the 3rd period alone there were 106 penalty minutes handed out. Most fights broke out largely due to a controversial hit from Captain Mark Giordano on Duck defenseman Cam Fowler.

The Ducks’ strength comes on the back end with their defense, but it took a big blow against the Flames with Cam Fowler going down with a knee injury.

“I have no use … I mean, the big thing in hockey today is concussions, but I still, as an old player, have no use for knee-on-knee hits, and especially if I think they are somewhat intentional. I hear how Gio is a good guy, and he’s this and he’s that. The media in Toronto is saying, ‘Well, he’s a good guy.’ Well, he’s done this before. I have no respect for people who go after knees. I’m sorry, but knees, they wreck your careers real quick. I don’t like it.” Ducks GM Bob Murray said this to the media following the game.

Cam Fowler will be out from 2-6 weeks, so he is likely going to miss the full series, of course you don’t want to see anyone get hurt, but that will help the Flames.

With all that occurred in that game April 4th,  fans of both teams could expect a lot of rough stuff from the Ducks and Flames come Thursday. Almost everyone is  certain that Ducks players may take a run at Mark Giordano, (Cough Cough Kevin Bieksa). Be sure tempers will flare come playoff time.

The Flames have played the Ducks in 2 playoffs series, they played in the 2005-2006 year where they lost in 7 games. They also played in the 2014-2015 season where they lost in 5 games. Their playoff record against the Ducks is 4 wins 8 losses.

Some things to watch for:

Michael Ferland is a lot more valuable in the playoffs. In the Flames surprising playoff appearance in 2015, Michael Ferland was a true leader. His role was to hit, annoy the other team, repeat. Which worked very well. Ferland’s big hits would get the crowd into it, would get the team into it, and most importantly would get the opponents mad at him and get them to take a bad penalty. Be sure to watch Ferland and Kevin Bieksa, because they really don’t like each other. Ferland also produced some scoring, mainly his goal to start the comeback in game 6 against the Canucks, but his rugged, physical play will be a big factor in this series.

Flames are a much more experienced team when it comes to the playoffs now. With the additions of Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg the Flames now have loads of playoff experience. On the roster the Flames have a combined 475 playoff games played. These player should be valuable in helping out players like Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett when the playoffs come.

Also Jon Gillies has been recalled by the Flames which likely says something about Chad Johnson’s injury. But it will be Brian Elliott who will be playing every game unless the injury bug bites him. Last year with St. Louis he had a great playoff run, and he will need to be a factor in this series especially in Anaheim.

The series starts Thursday 10:30 ET/8:30 MT. Flames vs Ducks. Its going to be a good physical series, so get ready.

 

The Playoffs Are Officially Back In Calgary

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Coming off a convincing 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks, the Flames clinch a playoff berth (their second time in 3 years).

 After a disappointing season last year, the playoffs have returned to Calgary.  But this year the team is much stronger and more complete. This season was full of ups and downs, here was there season summed up in a few lines:

  • Bad Start
  • Gaudreau Injury
  • Chad Johnson Steps up and goes on impressive 11-4-1 run
  • The team goes on a bad 4 game losing streak ultimately being dressed down publicly by an angry coach
  • Brian Elliott picks it up and the Flames start winning
  • They go on a 10 game winning streak
  • They Clinch a playoff spot

So now that the Flames have clinched a playoff spot its time to start thinking about match-ups. Right now the biggest possibilities for the Flames to play are:

Anaheim Ducks:

Right now the most likely match-up for the Flames is the Anaheim Ducks, which may scare some Flames fans. Of course everyone knows about the struggles at the Honda Center. The Flames haven’t won in Anaheim since 2004. But this year’s Flames team is one of the best Flames team I have seen in a long time, If the Flames play the Ducks in a series I wouldn’t be surprised if they finally got a win in Anaheim. The Ducks are currently leading the season series 2-1 and they will be in Calgary Sunday.

Edmonton Oilers:

If you are any kind of hockey fan you want to see a Battle Of Alberta playoff series. It would be a fantastic, entertaining series that nobody would want to miss. But the Flames have struggled against the Oilers this year, the Oilers swept the Season series 4-0. The Oilers played the Flames 2 times in the beginning of the year and we all know how that turned out(7-4 loss, 5-3 loss). Flames lost in a shootout the next meeting and got embarrassed at home losing 7-3. However, all of these games were before the Flames got really hot and put together an amazing final stretch to the end of the season. The thing about the Oilers is their lack of playoff experience, Connor McDavid (a very large part of the Oilers success) has never played a playoff game, neither has Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle. That could play a factor into the Oilers success in the playoffs and if the Flames would want that match-up.

San Jose Sharks:

It does not look likely that the Flames will play the Sharks but anything can happen. The Flames have done well against San Jose this year, they are leading the season series 3-1. But the Sharks obviously have lots of talent and players that come up big during the playoffs like Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau etc. But given the success the Flames have had against the Sharks and the Sharks recent struggles I wouldn’t mind this as a first round match-up.

Chicago Blackhawks:

Nobody would ever want to play the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs, and I would think every Flames fan feels the same way, we do not want to see the Flames play the Blackhawks in a series.

Right now the Flames hold the 1st Wild Card spot with 92 points, they are chasing down the Sharks (93 points), the Oilers (95 points) and the Ducks (96 points). With the remainder of the Flames schedule all against California teams it will be an interesting finish to the season.

What do you think? Who would you want the Flames to play in the first Round? And why? Comment what you think below or on my Twitter, @JMannFlames!

After Gulutzan’s Berating, Flames Have Been On Fire

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The big turnaround for the Calgary Flames seems to have started after a postgame interview with Glen Gulutzan. The Flames had just been beaten by the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 when Gulutzan called the teams performance pathetic.

After this interview the team turned it around. Since the Montreal beatdown, the Flames have gone 17-4-1. They were on the outside looking in after that game, fighting for the last wildcard spot. Now they have their eyes on home ice advantage in the first round, juggling in and out of 2nd and 3rd place in the Pacific Division and the first Wild Card spot in a heated race between the Flames, Ducks and Oilers.

One of the main reasons this team has been so successful since that game has been their ability to fight back after getting down by a goal. While the Flames were on that 4 game losing streak they allowed the first goal each game. They would play well, the opponent would score, and they would crumble. But that changed very quickly, they now have a record of 6-2-1 when the opponent has scored the first goal since the Montreal game.

The Flames have the ability to completely shut the game down when they lead after 2 periods. They have a record of 30-0-1 on the entire season when leading after 2. The one OT loss came in a shootout in their 3rd game of the season (the game Louis Eriksson scored an own-goal). Since then the Flames have gone 30-0-0, one of  the main reasons they went on that 10 game win streak.

The Flames solidified the defense, which has clearly helped because they have gone 10-1-0 with Michael Stone in the lineup and 12-2-1 with Matt Bartkowski in the lineup.

The goal in the video is Michael Stone’s second since coming to Calgary in a trade about a week before the deadline.

In 11 games with the Flames he has 2 goals and 3 assists, which is far better than what he had with the Arizona Coyotes. In 45 games with the Coyotes he had 1 goal and 8 assists. It has been a very good fit for the Flames and Stone. Matt Bartkowski has not been scoring but has been playing very good defensively with veteran defenseman Deryk Engelland. This pairing is mainly used as a shutdown unit, which has clearly worked given that the Flames don’t lose when leading after 40 minutes.

The chatter among Flames fans and media about Gaudreau and Monahan struggling has been put to rest now.

Gaudreau scored this spectacular goal against the Penguins to give them the lead in the 3rd. The Flames won this game in the shootout to win their 10th straight. Number 13 is the team’s leading scorer with 53 points after missing 10 games with a broken finger. During the 10 game win streak Johnny Gaudreau had two 4-point nights. The game that started the win streak (against the Predators in a 6-5 win) he had 4 assists including an assist on the game winner scored by Mark Giordano. His next 4-point night was against the Montreal Canadiens in a 5-0 shutout win. He had 1 goal and 3 assists. He also had the game winning goal in the game that started this success – against the Ottawa Senators. In a recent game against the Kings, both Gaudreau and Monahan had 1 goal and 2 assists. In their 4-2 loss against the Capitals, Gaudreau assisted Monahan. Both Gaudreau and Monahan have been a big part of the Flames success and have come up big at the best time.
And of course, the goaltending. All of those Brian Elliott doubters at the beginning of the year were proven very wrong.

And the 3M line..

They have been unbelievable all year, the most consistent line offensively and defensively. They have carried this team almost all season long. Enough said.
The Flames have been outstanding recently, but a few times this season and last season they have been really hot and sometimes been really cold. They have done enough to get a cushion in the Playoff race, but will they be able to keep up the good work in the Playoffs? We shall soon see.
 

The Story of Brian Elliott this Season

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Brian Elliott’s season has been full of ups and downs this year. He was acquired from the St. Louis Blues on draft day for a 2nd round pick and a conditional 3rd round pick. When he was brought in He was pretty much expected to be the Flames number 1 goalie and finally bring solid consistent goaltending to Calgary to help them make the playoffs.

Elliott played very well in the preseason, but he got off to a miserable start with the onset of the regular season. He allowed 6 goals in the season opener as part of a 7-4 loss. Brian Elliott was 3-9-0 with a SV% of .889. It was then that Chad Johnson stepped up and went on a impressive run of 13-4-1 with 3 shutouts, ultimately saving the Flames season.

In this time at the beginning of the year the majority of Flames fans were doubting Brian Elliott and many were hoping he would get traded. But Elliott blocked out all of the noise and just focused on getting his game back, which paid off. Elliott is now 21-13-4 with a SV% of .910. Since Jan. 26 Elliott is an outstanding 13-1-1 with a SV% of .934. He is arguably the biggest part of the Flames current 10 game win streak.

One of the main themes of this win streak for Elliott is big saves at the best times. Just recently against the Penguins he robbed Crosby of a rebound chance and stopped Crosby, Malkin and Kessel in the shootout. Four of the Flames ten wins have come in overtime and in those overtime periods Elliott has come up big. He also just recently posted 2 shutouts in a row. The Flames won 5-0 against Montreal and 3-0 against the Winnipeg Jets.

Elliott is leading the league in wins since the all-star break and is in the top 3 in almost every goalie category since then. It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for Elliott but naturally at this time of year he steps up. Since 2012,  March and April have seen Elliott go 33-13-3 with a 1.68 GAA and a .935 SV%. along with 14 shutouts, those numbers are phenomenal.

But it is not all done for Elliott, there are still 13 games left this season and most likely the playoffs. In the playoffs last year with St. Louis, Elliott went 9-9-2 with a 2.44 GAA and a SV% of .921. Although his record is not great those numbers are pretty good but if the Flames want a chance to go deep in the playoffs, those numbers may need to be a bit better. This is also Elliott’s last year on his current contract so if he wants to stick around in Calgary he cannot slow down.

Making A Case For “Mikael Selke”

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Mikael Backlund has arguably been the best, most consistent player for the Calgary Flames this year. Game in and game out he is tasked with taking out the opponents’ top players,  and he puts up points at a consistent pace along with that. Backlund is having a career season with 48 points in 68 games this year. Mikael Backlund’s previous scoring record was 47 points in 82 games, set last season. Backlund is also a +12 on the year. While he is putting up career numbers, his defensive play this year has been outstanding. Backlund and Frolik are the team’s most dependable penalty killers. They both block shots and are very smart but they are a very dangerous offensive threat when short-handed.

The conversation about Backlund and the Selke Trophy has caught on recently. In the past few weeks, teammates Mathew Tkachuk and a few others started calling him “Mikael Selke”, which has now caught on in the locker-room. In clutch situations, big faceoffs, big penalty kills, in the last few seconds when the opponents are pushing, Backlund will be the first one coach Glen Gulutzan will call on to hit the ice. Backlund will always be the first one to be called upon when taking defensive zone faceoffs and he plays tough minutes in the defensive zone. All of those things get overlooked.

Backlund this year has made a statement that he is one of the best two-way forwards in the past few years. But Backlund hasn’t got much exposure for his great play because all eyes have been on stars Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. With Johnny Gaudreau struggling early in the year it opened many eyes to the importance Mikael Backlund has to this group. When Johnny Gaudreau went down with injury, Backlund and his linemates Mathew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik carried the team offensively for those 10 games. Backlund always comes up big at the best times and leads the team with 7 game winning goals. For several years he has been very underrated: Now, its time for him to get the credit he deserves. No doubt if Mikael Backlund went down with an injury, the Flames would struggle offensively and defensively, which is why he should be a candidate for the Selke Trophy.